Technological disruption is driving a wave of change so great that the World Economic Forum has termed it the fourth industrial revolution. How we work and live is fundamentally changing. We live in what is now commonly referred to as a VUCA world - volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous.
Organisations - large and small - know they have to respond to this. Consequently, CEOs are under constant pressure to perform. This pressure comes from many quarters - investors, the Board, regulators, customers, employees and other external stakeholders. It’s not surprising that CEOs are always looking for the next ‘big’ idea that will help their organisation to:
- Outsmart their competitors
- Gain more market share
- Cut costs
- Improve customer service
- Release innovative products
- Enhance productivity
The expectations are enormous, which in turn is generating a pace and frequency of change which is unprecedented. But all this change and technology advances are creating a working environment which is more, not less complex. It’s hard to make progress, to navigate the complexity, and to juggle the competing demands. And yet, CEOs are expected to deliver more results, faster and with less resources.
The end result - is a is a working environment which is highly unstable, more complex and more bureaucratic. There’s endless meetings, countless stakeholders to consult and shifting goal posts. It is impossible for a CEO to survive, let alone thrive, in such an environment unless they are able to influence. CEOs need to be able to influence within and outside their organisation so they can get traction and make progress. This is not self-serving influence. Rather it’s focused on ensuring balanced outcomes, considering the needs of all stakeholders.
Achieving this requires the CEO to have the optimal mix of technical and behavioural skills. Being technically brilliant is one thing, but it’s not the foundation on which to build a platform for influence. Successful CEOs know how to influence. They know how to get things done through other people and are aware of the environment in which they are operating. They know how to use their position wisely to secure outcomes enabling them to cut through the noise and make change happen. They do this in a way which is highly consultative and collaborative, knowing they will only secure sustainable change and progress if the organisation’s leaders and employees buy into it. They take a long term view of relationships and understand that relying solely on traditional hierarchical power to get things done doesn’t work anymore. Why? Because the organisational dynamics and expectations of employees are different.
Employees want to be inspired and encouraged, and they look to the CEO to set the vision and pace of change. In contrast, those who struggle to influence often resort to hierarchical power plays by seeking to wield ‘power over others’. They adopt the perspective that they are right and force decisions and outcomes without listening to people.
CEOs with this limiting, fixed mindset eventually find themselves out of a job because they have been unable to build a sustainable support base and make good decisions, with resulting impact on organisational outcomes.
Stanford Professor, Carol Dweck's research has demonstrated the negative impact that a CEO's fixed mindset has on organisational outcomes. In her book, Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential, she recounts stories of egotistical CEOs whose belief in their own superiority led to their, and the organisation’s, demise. If CEOs want to step up and progress in today’s changing world they need to shift their mindset and focus on how they can best engage and influence those around them.